Ochotona rufescensAfghan pika

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Geographic Range

Ochotona rufescens is distributed across mountainous middle Asia, from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran to Armenia and SW Turkmenistan. (Hoffman, et al., 2005)

Habitat

Afghan pikas are found in mountainous areas, often on talus slopes or in other areas with rocks. They also construct burrows in dry soils. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

Physical Description

Average length and weight of O. rufescens is not reported but members of Ochotona weigh 125 to 400 g. Males and females are monomorphic. During the summer, they have cream colored collars that are outlined with a russet pelage. Afghan pikas have small heads with small round ears. They have very short legs with dense fur covering the bottoms of their paws for added insulation. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005; Nowak, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike

Reproduction

Mating systems vary with habitat quality between populations. Monogamy and polygyny have been observed in this species. (Nowak, 1999)

Ochotona rufescens has a high rate of reproduction. Up to eleven young may be produced in one litter and females can have up to five litters in extended breeding seasons. Gestation periods for O. rufescens are not reported. Other species of pika generally have a thirty day gestation period. It also takes an average of thirty days for a mother pika to wean her young. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005; Nowak, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Afghan pikas breed up to five times a year.
  • Breeding season
    Afghan pikas breed during the warm months.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 11
  • Average number of offspring
    9
  • Average gestation period
    30 days
  • Average weaning age
    30 days
  • Average time to independence
    30 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 to 5 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

At birth, pikas are reported to weigh roughly 9 g. They have altricial young. Parental care consists of approximately 30 days of feeding and protection in the burrow before they are forced to disperse and fend for themselves. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005; Nowak, 1999)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting

Lifespan/Longevity

There are no reports on the lifespan of O. rufescens. Other Species in the genus Ochotona have been reported to live up to almost eight years. However, typically, pikas live for only a few years in the wild and many pikas do not live through their first winter. (Nowak, 1999)

Behavior

Afghan pikas generally live in small family groups and share daily activities such as watching for predators and gathering food. Density is up to 30 animals per acre. Afghan pikas do not hibernate. They collect plants and stack them in “hay piles” to dry. Once dried, the plants are stored in burrows for later consumption. They rely on hay for bedding and food. It is also not uncommon for Afghan pikas to steal bedding and food from other pikas or from other small mammals or birds. Pikas are often active both day and night, there is no report of daily activity patterns for O. rufescens in the literature. (Hoffman, et al., 2005; Nowak, 1999)

Home Range

Home range has not been reported.

Communication and Perception

In English, pika is translated as “whistling hare.”” Most pikas use whistling sounds to communicate with each other. Afghan pikas are unique in that they do not have a well developed larynx, used to make vocalizations. This is not to say that they make no noise, but reports of their vocalizations are not found in the literature. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005; Hoffman, et al., 2005)

Like other mammals, Afghan pikas are expected to use chemical cues extensively in communication and perception as well.

Food Habits

Afghan pikas eat thistles and other xeric plants. They make hay piles to allow gathered plants to dry. Once dried, the hay is then cached away in burrows. Caches are typically restocked twice a year. This occurs once during the spring and once in the fall. Afghan pikas also steal food and bedding material from other burrows. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

Predation

No report on predators is available. Given their small body size, it is likely that Afghan pikas are preyed on by terrestrial carnivores and raptors.

Ecosystem Roles

Afghan pikas impact vegetation communities throughout their range. They are also likely to be important prey animals for birds of prey. (Nowak, 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Afghan pikas are important members of their native ecosystems.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Afghan pikas are considered agricultural pests on crops and orchards in some parts of their range. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Ochotona rufescens is listed as lower risk on the IUCN list. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005; Hoffman, et al., 2005)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

michael Triepke (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor, instructor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Erbajeva, M. 2001. New Ochotonids (Lagomorpha) from the Pleistocene of France. Geodiversitas, 23: 395-409.

Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005. "Afghan pika" (On-line). Answers.com. Accessed October 19, 2006 at http://www.answers.com/topic/afghan-pika.

Hoffman, R., A. Smith, D. Wilson, D. Reeder. 2005. Mammal Species of the World, third edition. John Hopkins University Press: John Hopkins University Press.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press.